The cost of free platforms

Owen Williams, writing in the Charged newsletter about Medium’s latest pivot, one that is actually pivoting away from publishers,1 after opening its arms to them at first:2

All of this is to say: Medium is great, but be wary! Owning your own platform is important, and valuable, even at this point in the internet’s maturity cycle.

This part really comforts me into my choice of platform for this very blog.3 Sure, I do not ‘own’ the whole thing (it’s Squarespace), but one thing we forget too often when mentioning platforms is the — very tricky — word ‘free’.

If you don’t pay for something with money, you usually pay by giving away some of your data. Most people are OK with this idea, and that is fine. Such data can be used to improve products, and that is why Google Photos and Gmail — to name a few — are so good at what they do while also being free to use. But if you’re not paying with actual money, platform companies will never consider you as the true customer, they may never adjust their products to better suit you, they might never help you get your content out once they disappear.

Medium is not alone is this neglect of its users, Twitter is acting up like this with developers and power users too.

  1. The short notice those publishers were initially given is telling you how much people at Medium think.↩︎

  2. After seeing the failed experiment of — now defunct — The Awl, and now this, which publisher would trust Medium now? Medium burned a bridge on that one, but without publishers on its side, how can it charms users enough to pay?↩︎

  3. This blog used to be hosted on the great and minimalist Svbtle platform. Their Svbtle Promise is a fantastic commitment to the paying users of the service. (I switched to Squarespace to merge, a couple of Tumblr blogs, and the main blog into one platform. If it has been just for my blog, you’d probably read those lines on Svbtle.↩︎